The Leaf's Network

Here's a cool experiment. It's gonna be tricky for you to do at home but just imagine for a second:

You take a leaf with its stem and make a hole in the center vein of the leaf. Then inject some fluorescent liquid and watch it spread in the leaf. Intuitively you would assume that all the veins upstream from the hole won't be filled with the fluorescent liquid. And surprise! The whole leaf becomes fluorescent despite the hole!


Take a close look at a tree leaf next time you have one in hand and observe the veins on the leaf. At first sight it seems they replicate a tree structure, but then looking closely you'll see they form actually loops!

My friend Astrid DesLandes shared this study by Eleni Katifori et al with us at the Nature's Genius workshop we attended. You might wanna have a look at least at the pictures in that paper if nothing else, and maybe download the short time lapse of the experiment, it's really beautiful!

So the leaf has ways to keep it's whole surface supplied with water and get the sugars produced by photosynthesis back to the tree despite damages in its vein network. Small damages are not killing it. With all the insects feeding on them, it was a pretty important property to evolve!

Astrid was explaining that replicating the properties of the network of veins in leaves could be very useful in urban areas. Think road blocked because of an accident. How cool would it be to still get home without loosing too much time stuck in the traffic jam generated by the accident? For that you're gonna need loops, many of them, and no one way streets. Now of course implementing this in the existing urban networks bight be tricky because many traffic arteries cannot be re-dimensioned. But still, improving that by following the leaf's strategies could definitely help!

Now this can serve in any type of network really, not only urban, obviously. Computer networks, snail mail, logistics,... Any other thoughts on that?

And by the way, if you want to learn more about how leaves function, here is a really nice animation: